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20 things I wish I knew before I started working

One of the most frequent questions I get here and on other social media streets is 'What do I need to know before I start working?', so I asked a few of my friends who have each been working for over a decade what they wish someone had told them. Think 50+ years of culmulative experience – nothing like the power of hindsight. Here are 20 things my friends and I wish someone had told us before we started working.

20 things I wish I knew before I started working
  1. Before I started my career, I wish I knew that it's okay not to be perfect at everything or to know everything right from the start. I used to think that I had to have all the answers and skills before even beginning, which was quite overwhelming. Realizing it's all a learning journey, where growing and adapting are part of the process, would have eased so much pressure and allowed me to embrace opportunities with more confidence and less fear of making mistakes.
  2. I always knew that hard work is good and having soft skills is also good. However, having both hard work and soft skills is the best. And to get ahead in life and tackle office politics well, it's good to have a healthy dose of both.
  3. Your colleagues are not your friends. Don’t trust too quickly. Observe more and talk less. Keep your private life private. Get your money and go home.
  4. It’s important to have certain skills like driving before starting to work. A basic understanding of economics and finance is helpful. Knowledge of IT tools like Excel will serve you well. Our parents do a lot of us a disservice by not letting us learn how to drive early.
  5. Landing an entry level job in marketing (for example) is great but you must have a hard skill or belong to a professional body, especially if you want to leave the country. Add Photoshop and photography if you are in marketing. Learn additional skills that will make you valuable at work.
  6. Be open to the fact that your career will not be a linear trajectory. Sometimes growth comes from unexpected directions. Network with a lot more people outside your circle. You will be surprised at what catches your fancy in different environments.
  7. Learn from people's mistakes and examples. Learn what to do and what not to do in any circumstance in the professional setting.
  8. Make your boss look good. Don't approach work as doing your boss a favour. In the long run, it also looks good on you as part of your accomplishments as you advance in your career.
  9. In every job, you should either earn or learn, or better still both. If a job is not doing either of them, it is time to leave.
  10. Visibility trumps expertise every time. The people who get ahead are those who are seen and known, not necessarily the most qualified people. As you work on your career, work on being known and seen by the people who matter.
  11. No 'ability' or skill is too small. In my career, both in the private and public sectors, I have realized that people become key members of teams because of seemingly small skills. I have been in rooms I would ordinarily not be in because of my ability to edit and proofread speeches for high-ranking officials.
  12. Learn how to use Microsoft Office Suite and use it well.
  13. Showing up on time and showing up prepared always earns you respect. Always review everything before you go into a meeting and be prepared for any questions that may come up.
  14. The way a person in a position of power treats you says more about them than it does about you. Don't take it personally if you are not treated well. Glean what you can from the experience and use that to become a better person.
  15. Get a mentor or better still, a personal board of directors- people who have your best interest at heart and can give you advice on your career path. They will also be able to connect you with people in their circles to assist you in certain scenarios.
  16. Invest in yourself. From Youtube videos to Tiktoks and podcasts, there is always something you can learn to improve upon yourself.
  17. Evaluate your career periodically. After 1 year, 3 years or 5 years, take a look at your career and see if your interests, prospects and passions are evolving with time.
  18. Network, network, network. Some of the most important connections in my life were made during National Service. Go for the Christmas party. Volunteer for the CSR initiative. Get to connect with people beyond the work.
  19. To do lists are your friend. Always have a list of things to do at the beginning of the day. It helps you to prioritize and to protect your time.
  20. Take personal hygiene seriously. Body odor has robbed excellent people of opportunities. Your clothes do not need to be expensive but they should sit well on you.

Written by Maukeni Ribeiro

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